Thinking Colombia

EDITORIAL, 19 May 2008

#9 | Johan Galtung

What a brilliant idea! The Senate of the República and the Universidad Nacional organize Thursday meetings in the Congress on how to think about Colombia, opened by president Alvaro Uribe, the president of the Congress, Nancy Gutiérrez, and then a foreigner, this author, amply covered by the press and TV channels. Many countries might benefit from reflecting aloud on itself in such public sessions, and like in Colombia add: because the future is in our hands. If you think, maybe; if not somebody else for sure will, even with a Plan Colombia.

Think Colombia! The conflict, the violence, development, drugs, foreign relations, with the USA and neighbors leaning in other directions; Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil–and Bolivia. Ten years since last time I was here, after many visits from 1962 on with the privilege of knowing Camilo Torres, the Christian revolutionary still freshly sloganized on the walls. And some giant steps forward: the right-wing para-military are no longer a taboo topic. And today there are women all over the place, thinking, talking, acting far better than most men. But the audience in front of me is still mainly white.

What is it all about? Certainly about violence and conflict, and certainly about the difference between the two. From the conquista on this country has suffered an enormity of direct violence, like the sexualized atrocities against the indigenous, developing into a culture of violence. And an enormity of structural violence by the poderes fácticos, the latifundista land-owners, the military and clergy, often brothers, expelling the less obedient, killing them, and sending their souls to hell. A well knitted social tissue; a silent atrocity, untenable, like in China, Cambodia, Nepal.

The Spanish Civil war was over this structure, and the bill for the conquista is now being paid in Colombia with much the same war. And all parties, FARC, ELN, paramilitary and the military have all fallen into the same trap: endless violence, the clash of parties, instead of addressing the real issue, the clash of goals, values, interests pitting the maybe 60% poor, many in misery, against the, say, 40% better off. It is not good enough to have a neo-liberal policy for those 40% as there will be no trickling down but massive pumping up.

And race, white against red and black, makes Colombia worse. It pits Uribe, Gutiérrez and the Castro brothers from Galicia against Chávez, Lula and Morales. It may explode.

Colombia should learn from Nepal: the “maoists” gained much more justice by nonviolence 6-24 April 2006 in Kathmandu than through guerrila and terrorism the ten preceding years.

The solution, not meeting violence with violence, nor the laudable support for the victims, is sustainable development, not economic growth, but meeting the needs of the most needy. For people with no money and no jobs in sight the market is not helpful. There have to be large sectors of publicly owned land for production, individually or cooperatively, for own consumption; the goal being dignity, not productivity. There are alternative energies and technologies to help out. Dense networks of polyclinics and rapid transport for emergencies do much for health care together with simple preventive measures. Alphabetization of adults all over can be achieved in a year.

Such approaches, the “socialism of the 21st century”, are used by China, Cuba and Venezuela. Use their experiences, advise, even help, in the Colombian emergency, worse than a tsunami, cyclone, earthquake. A permanent emergency.

Drug traffic: best approached, more wisely, by seeing it as a demand-supply problem. Washington and Bogotá could work out together a Plan Estados Unidos for the repair of the flaws in US society that produce such a high demand. Seeing only one country as responsible, Colombia for the supply, will mainly serve to drive up the prices, and encourage other suppliers.

And that brings us to international relations in general. An hypothesis, based on much data and theory, will be that the US Empire (not the USA, they may blossom!) past peak-empire some time ago, and that by, say 2020, it is over. Another hypothesis would be that the successor system will not be any other country or region filling the gap–even if there are forces in the European Union eager to do–but a world of regions. Four are already there, EU,AU, SAARC and ASEAN.

An Estados Unidos de America Latina y el Caribe may take time, but is in the making, with a Banco Sur, Tele Sur, oil for eye operations, possibly a SATO rather than a NATO. Thus, Colombia, like Japan, may run the risk of falling between a USA no longer intervening for status quo all over the world, and a rising America Latina without Colombia. The intelligent policy would, of course, be to have good relations with both. There is much to learn about neo-liberal economics from the USA, and about structural changes meeting basic needs from, say, Cuba, Venezuela and China. How about doing both?

By relating to both, Colombia–or at least Bogotá under present political conditions–could be bridge-building. And, joining EEUUAL will heal that wound in the Colombian history: 1903, an artificial border to an artificial country, imposed by somebody. Hands off any violence! but let us join forces in something much greater, dignity for all in this continent!

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 May 2008.

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